Aberystwyth University bid to develop 'learning' robots

The iCub robot
Image caption Theories about how humans learn will be tested on iCub

Scientists are taking part in an international project to develop robots which can "learn" like children.

Academics at Aberystwyth University have taken delivery of the iCub robot, which has a range of motions like a child.

Theories about how humans learn will be tested on iCub and, if they are successful, could be used to develop other robots.

Italian, Swiss and German scientists are also working on the project.

The aim of the IM-CLeVeR (Intrinsically Motivated Cumulative Learning Versatile Robots) project is to develop robots that can learn just like people.

The 5.9m euro (£4.9m) scheme, funded by the European Union, includes 10 institutions from around Europe, including the universities of Sheffield and Ulster.

The Aberystwyth team has received £760,000.

Scientists working in fields including robotics, neuroscience, developmental psychology and machine learning are taking part.

Dr James Law of Aberystwyth University, which will test and demonstrate certain theories about how humans learn, said: "Humans learn very, very well and most of that learning occurs during infancy, so if we can understand how that works then we could use these principles to develop robots.

"At the moment, robots in places like factories are programmed to work in strict environments, but we want them to learn in more flexible ways than those programmed using traditional methods.

"We want a robot to learn for itself, so when it is in a workplace and hears a sound or sees something that interests them they can learn from it."

Dr Law said if the project worked, the robots with human skills could work in residential homes or hospitals, but he refused to speculate on the sort of jobs they could do.

Aberystwyth University has been working on projects to build robots that respond and make decisions like humans for a few years, and Dr Law said that research would be used to inform the latest scheme.

The iCub robot, which was built in Italy, has similar motion to a young child. Researchers at Aberystwyth will use it as a platform to test and demonstrate their theories.

Dr Law said: "Development in infancy is strongly linked to the body of the child.

"With this robot we can investigate how infants progressively build their skills, using their bodies to manipulate and learn about their environment."

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